Once upon a time, there was a wine critic who was totally incorruptible. He did not attend trade tastings or travel on sponsored junkets, and fiercely insisted on paying his own way. His approach to wine criticism was viewed as a refreshing change from the methods of the British wine press, who were frequently member of the trade themselves; they were known for socializing with producers, forging friendships with them and accepting favors of all sorts.
This critic became the champion of the consumer, a Ralph Nader of wine. His name was Robert Parker.
Over time, Parker himself developed personal friendships with winemakers, but his publication—The Wine Advocate—remained above reproach. As the years passed, he slipped into semi-retirement, hiring writers to review wine in the Advocate. Some of the writers he chose were critics of great perception and talent. Others were old buddies who grew into positions of importance at the publication. One of those buddies was Jay Miller, who began as an unpaid assistant to Parker and ended up reviewing wine from Oregon, Washington, Spain, Argentina and Australia.
Jay Miller resigned from The Wine Advocate last week, amid allegations that he (or people speaking for him) attempted to extort money from wineries in exchange for visits and reviews. The charges were made by Jim Budd, a wine blogger based in London. Budd apparently has copies of emails sent by Pancho Campo (president of The Wine Academy of Spain, and Miller’s representative in that country) to various wine estates, demanding 20,000 Euros for a visit from Miller. A positive review in The Advocate can be a powerful sales tool, well worth that type of investment.
There’s no evidence that any money went to Miller, and yet he resigned anyway. It was not the first time he had stirred up controversy at the magazine. Over the past several years he relinquished responsibility for reviewing Argentina and Australia after it was discovered that he had accepted paid junkets to those countries, in violation of the Advocate’s policy. Miller says that the timing of his resignation was purely coincidental. Parker says he has launched an investigation into the matter, but continues to be supportive of Miller.
This is one of the problems with revolutions—the revolutionaries frequently turn out to possess the same flaws as the people they depose.